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‘Space for people to spread out’: Could North State wilderness be oasis for those eager to escape home?

Redding Record Searchlight logo Redding Record Searchlight 5/28/2020 Damon Arthur, Redding Record Searchlight

As tourist season begins, hotel owners, marina operators and restaurant managers throughout the North State are waiting to see what happens with the coronavirus restrictions that throttled the state’s economy this spring.

For that, they are looking to the governor’s office and whether the COVID-19 continues to spread. Once that happens, families that have been cooped up under stay-at-home orders will be eager to get to vacations, said Matt Doyle, general manager of Lake Shasta Caverns.

a man standing next to a waterfall: Heather Dye of New Orleans, Louisiana stands at McCloud River's Middle Fall, one of three waterfalls in the mountain community on Tuesday morning, May 19, 2020. Dye was visiting a cousin in Redding. © Hung T. Vu/Special to the Record Searchlight Heather Dye of New Orleans, Louisiana stands at McCloud River's Middle Fall, one of three waterfalls in the mountain community on Tuesday morning, May 19, 2020. Dye was visiting a cousin in Redding.

“We are going to have a massive draw up here once it’s released,” Doyle said of the governor’s restrictions on businesses like his. “The second we open up, we are going to be flooded.”

The caverns, which wind deep into the limestone mountains around Lake Shasta, rely heavily on tourists from outside Shasta County. The caverns, though, have been closed since March 19.

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Laurie Baker, CEO of the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association, said the tourism industry will take a hit because of coronavirus restrictions. But she also thinks it will bounce back.

“We think there is a lot of pent up demand for people who want to get away,” said Baker, whose organization promotes tourism in eight Northern California counties.

Travel and tourism is a major component of the North State’s economy. People who traveled and stayed at hotels, campgrounds and other lodgings generated about $1.2 billion in the Shasta-Cascade region’s eight counties, according to Dean Runyan Associates of Portland, Oregon, which analyses the economic impacts of travel and tourism.

“It’s (tourism) totally important. It’s one of our major industries up here,” said Doyle, who also is on the Shasta-Cascade Wonderland Association board of directors.

With little manufacturing in the region and the timber industry no longer the major employer it was decades ago, the economic driver remains tourism and travel, he said.

The North State includes scores of places to splash in the water, ride over trails, visit volcanoes, hike to waterfalls, hunt, fish or just seek solitude, rest and renewal.

Travel generated about $96 million in state and local tax revenue and 12,360 jobs in the counties that make up the Shasta-Cascade region, according to Dean Runyan.

“It really supports our standard of living and helps improve our standard of living,” Baker said.

When marketing the North State, people like Baker tout the region’s many outdoor offerings, from Lake Shasta, the Sundial Bridge, the Sacramento River and Whiskeytown Lake to Burney Falls, Lava Beds National Monument, the Trinity Alps, Mt. Shasta and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Megan Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Siskiyou Economic Development Council, said her organization is promoting activities that take advantage of the area's wide open spaces.

There are several remote, but wide and well-maintained state highways — such as highways 96, 97, 3, 89 and 139 — that are excellent for RV and motorcycle touring, she said. As in much of the North State, Siskiyou County has numerous wilderness areas where people also can get out and practice social distancing.

Like Shasta County, there are also numerous waterfalls in Siskiyou County that draw thousands of visitors annually, including the three McCloud falls, Hedge Creek Falls, Sweetbrier Falls and Faery Falls.

a small boat in a harbor next to a body of water: A tugboat pushes a houseboat back into the dock Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at the Holiday Harbor Resort & Marina on Lake Shasta. © Hung T. Vu/Special to the Record Searchlight A tugboat pushes a houseboat back into the dock Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at the Holiday Harbor Resort & Marina on Lake Shasta.

Tourism promoters have to walk a fine line between encouraging travel to Siskiyou locations and being careful not to inundate small communities and respect social distancing guidelines, she said.

On the state level, officials expect to lose about $72.1 billion in visitor spending in 2020 due to the virus. That is about half of the money generated statewide in 2019, officials said.

“The data show just how vital tourism is to the California economy and why it must be restored when we control and ultimately overcome this deadly outbreak,” said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, said in a statement.

While the dark clouds of loss hang over much of California’s tourism industry, there are pockets of travel sunshine in the Golden State.

For two months in a row, the number of visitors to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area outside Redding has above average.

“We are well above normal,” said Josh Hoines, superintendent at Whiskeytown. And people can visit the area safely. “There’s a lot of space for people to spread out around here,” he said.

a man riding a bicycle near a bridge: A woman on a scooter rides along the Sacramento River Trail in Redding on Friday, May 15, 2020. © Hung T. Vu/Special to the Record Searchlight A woman on a scooter rides along the Sacramento River Trail in Redding on Friday, May 15, 2020.

The number of visitors to Whiskeytown in April was 105,425, more than double the average number of visitors for April, he said. Whiskeytown visitation was 13% above average in March, he said.

Whiskeytown visitors are likely looking to escape from being holed up at home, while the kids are out of school and many people are off work, he said.

Tucked in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order were encouraging words for residents to get outdoors for recreation, as long as people remembered social distancing.

"It’s OK to go outside to go for a walk, to exercise, and participate in healthy activities as long as you maintain a safe physical distance of 6 feet and gather only with members of your household," the governor's order says.

Baker and others in the industry said once travel restrictions are lifted, the tourism industry will pick up again.

“We are going to take a hit. We are going to have less than we used to, but we’ll recover,” she said.

Because tourism is a labor intensive economic sector, it can create jobs faster than other sectors of the economy, Visit California officials said. The agency noted that during the Great Recession overall California employment fell 8.6%, but during the recession, travel and tourism jobs dipped only 5.6%.

“Tourism in California will rebound, because it always has — after earthquakes, wildfires, the 9/11 terrorist attacks or economic crisis,” Visit California’s Beteta said.

Travel in the economy

  • In the eight-county Shasta-Cascade region of Northern California travel generated about $1.2 billion in direct spending in 2019.
  • Travel in the region generated about $96 million in local and state tax receipts.
  • There were 12,360 jobs in the travel and tourism industry in 2019 region-wide.
  • State tourism officials expect a $72.1 billion drop in travel spending statewide because of the coronavirus.

Damon Arthur is the Record Searchlight’s resources and environment reporter. He is among the first on the scene at breaking news incidents, reporting real time on Twitter at @damonarthur_RS. Damon is part of a dedicated team of journalists who investigate wrongdoing and find the unheard voices to tell the stories of the North State. He welcomes story tips at 530-338-8834 and damon.arthur@redding.com. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today!

This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: ‘Space for people to spread out’: Could North State wilderness be oasis for those eager to escape home?

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